Obesity is a term used to describe somebody who is very overweight with a high degree of body fat.
There are a number of ways a person’s weight can be assessed. The most widely used method is the body mass index.
The body mass index (BMI) is your weight in kilograms divided by your height in metres squared. You can use the NHS Choices’ BMI healthy weight calculator to work out your own BMI.
*if your BMI is between 25 and 29, you would be considered overweight
*if your BMI is between 30 and 40, you would be considered obese
*if your BMI is over 40, you would be considered very obese (known as ‘morbidly obese’)
Another useful method is to measure around your waist. People with very fat waists (94cm or more in men and 80cm or more in women) are more likely to develop obesity-related health problems.
The risks of obesity
Being obese increases your risk of developing a number of serious and potentially life-threatening diseases such as:
*type 2 diabetes
*some types of cancer, such as breast cancer and colon cancer
In addition, obesity can damage your quality of life and can often trigger depression.
There are four main goals in the treatment of obesity:
*to prevent further weight gain
*to gradually lose weight through a combination of a calorie-controlled diet and regular exercise
*to avoid regaining any lost weight
*to improve your general state of health and reduce your risk of obesity-related complications
Some people prefer a one-to one consultation with a trainer or dietician, others prefer taking part in a weight-loss group, which can be organised by the local primary care trust (PCT) or a commercial organisation. You may want to use an internet application such as the NHS BMI Tracker tool to monitor your weight.
A medication called orlistat can aid weight loss, but this should be used in combination with the steps mentioned above, not as an alternative. Your GP will be able to advise whether orlistat is suitable for you.
Many people will also need help examining and changing unhealthy patterns of thinking and behaviour.
Weight loss surgery is used as a last resort to treat people who are dangerously obese. A gastric band or gastric bypass operation is only available on the NHS to treat people with potentially life-threatening obesity that will not respond to non-surgical treatments, such as lifestyle changes.
The cause of most cases of obesity is the person eats more calories than they burn off and the unused calories are turned into fat. Modern lifestyle does not help:
*there is easy access to cheap, high-energy food that is often aggressively marketed to people
*people’s lifestyles and jobs are much less active than in the past and many leisure activities such as watching television, playing video games and browsing the internet are usually done sitting down
*people drive or use public transport and walk a lot less than they used to
There are also a number of conditions that can cause weight gain, such as polycystic ovary syndrome.
Who is affected
A survey published in 2012 found that just over a quarter of all adults (26%) in England are obese.
Obesity is also an increasing problem in children, with around 1 out of 7 children being classified as obese.
There is no ‘magic wand’ treatment for obesity. Weight loss programmes take commitment and can be challenging, but they are successful for people who stick with them.
Research looking at obese people who completed a commercial weight loss programme lasting 12 months found they lost around 5 -10% of their body weight. While this may not sound like a great amount, it is important to stress that even a modest reduction in weight brings important health benefits. Losing this amount will significantly reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.